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ALLIANCE -- For the second straight week, a Ryan Stoller complete game kept the Garfield G-Men rolling through the Hot Stove Alliance Regional bracket.
The G-Men ace scattered six hits -- and struck out 11 -- over seven scoreless innings, as Garfield beat Promos Unlimited, 5-0, in a Class F Alliance Regional semifinal.
Stoller and the G-Men will take on their neighborhood rivals, the Garfield Giants, with a regional title at stake this afternoon at Alliance's Butler Rodman Park.
Stoller succeeded with sharp command, avoiding walks and peppering the zone with fastballs to the low, outside corner. Coupled with a newfound devastating slider, discovered right before this year's tournament, that was more than enough to keep Promos at bay.
"I accidentally gripped it in practice, just messing around, and I gripped a slider and threw it and it worked, so I started using it in a game," Stoller said.
In the fourth, after yielding a one-out double, he grazed outer black with a heater for strike one, hit the same spot with a slider for strike two, then got the batter to chase a two-strike slider out of the zone for strike three. With runners on second and third and two outs, he ended a seven-pitch at-bat with pure heat that the opposing hitter couldn't quite catch up to.
In the sixth, with runners again on second and third and two outs, Stoller put down the threat with a nasty slider that fell out of the zone, below the hitter's swing path.
"His slider is just phenomenal," G-Men coach John Demma said. "It's just a great pitch for him."
At the plate, Stoller was equally deadly, with three singles and three stolen bases, pairing up well with daredevil baserunner Brody Swigonski, who walked his first three times up to the plate.
Stoller led off the afternoon with a single, stole second and scored on a fly. Swigonski, after his opening walk, stole second, took third on a sacrifice fly and scored on a balk to give the G-Men a 2-0 advantage.
"(The) baseball awareness with some of these guys, especially Brody, Brody's baseball awareness, (there) is almost nothing better," Demma said. "He knows exactly what to do, when to do it and hustles every play."
Aggression paid off late as well against Brock Hillyer. The Promos reliever was flat-out dominant for the most part, striking out the first five batters he faced and 12 overall, but the G-Men scored a few insurance runs off him in the final two frames.
After falling behind 1-2 to start the sixth, Swigonski watched a slider sail wide, then stepped out of the way of two fastballs for a leadoff walk. Catcher Anthony Demma followed with another piece of beautiful hitting, sending an 0-2 pitch just wide of the pitcher, reaching base after the shortstop bobbled the soft grounder. The next two batters struck out, but Keaton Eberly walked to load the bases. With the bases loaded, Hillyer got Logan Davis to chase a nasty two-strike slider, but the pitch had so much movement that it broke past the catcher, to the backstop, for a 3-0 Garfield lead.
Aggressive baserunning was an even bigger factor in the seventh, when Stoller lashed the first pitch he saw up the middle, strolled to second on Aidan McDougall's walk, stole third and then came home when the throw to third skipped into the outfield. Swigonski followed with a smash to the pitcher, who got McDougall in a rundown, but while McDougall darted back and forth between third and home, Swigonski sprinted all the way to third, capping his dash with a beautiful headfirst slide. His trip home was a tad less dramatic, he ran home on a wild pitch, but it gave Garfield a 5-0 edge.
"Ryan is super fast, Brody is super fast and we use that to our advantage," John Demma said.
Anthony Demma, meanwhile, played a beautiful game behind the plate, keeping one Promos runner at third with a suave stab at a pitch that one-hopped to the plate, and later maintaining possession through a vicious collision at the plate to keep another would-be run off the board. After the play at home, he got up and told John Demma that it was a good thing he also played football.
"I felt happy that he got him, and then mad that he plowed him over," Stoller said. "He lets me throw what I want. He doesn't call the same thing over and over. He knows what I want to throw and he mixes it up. He knows exactly what I want."
The game, as a whole, featured an unusual number of strikeouts, with Garfield striking out 17 times, while striking out 11 Promos Unlimited batters.
GARFIELD GIANTS 7,
CANTON RANGERS 2
At more than six feet tall, Kaidan Spade is intimidating before he even throws the ball.
Then, the right-hander starts blazing fastballs up and in and the intimidation only grows.
Spade struck out 17 batters Saturday afternoon as the Garfield Giants bested the Canton Rangers, 7-2, in a Hot Stove Class F Alliance Regional semifinal, to clinch an all-Garfield regional title game.
The first three innings were a relative breeze for Spade and the Giants, as they took a 4-0 lead and Spade struck out eight while yielding two baserunners.
The final innings were tougher, but Spade's overpowering stuff shone through.
In the fifth, the leadoff batter reached on an error, but Spade blew a fastball by the second hitter for the first out of the frame. An opposite-field single pushed the Rangers within 6-2, but Spade answered with his 11th strikeout on knee-high heat, then ended the frame with his 12th punch-out, again with a deadly fastball.
The sixth was similar.
With two runners on and one out, Spade got one hitter to chase strike three, then placed a two-out fastball on the knees for strikeout number 15.
That's not to say Spade only threw heat. He flashed a good deal of movement on his curveball and his slider. Indeed, his 16th strikeout came on a nasty slider that broke over the plate. Another slider sent a hitter ducking to the ground — before it broke across the plate. With two strikes and one out in the seventh, a Canton player yelled, "Watch that curveball," with Spade pumping high heat for his 17th and final strikeout.
"Being able to throw in does help the curveball," Giants assistant coach Mike Spade said. "He was able to establish inside."
That proved plenty enough to win, as the Giants strung hits together in several frames. In the second, Carson Covey singled, Noah Eggert walked and Riley LaPorte singled, all in a row, as Garfield opened the scoring. The Giants tacked on three more in the third as five consecutive Garfield players reached base, on a walk, three singles and an Eggert double to cap the rally.
Covey finished with three singles, while teammate Joseph Perrine had two singles and a double. Ethan Cmunt sent a grounder up the middle in the sixth to account for the final margin of 7-2.
"They all hit," a pleased coach Scott Eberly said. "They're all having fun."